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James Chubb, East Devon Education Ranger explores the countryside.
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Mon, Sep 19 2011 11:30 AM
I often get asked when people should put food out for garden birds? It is something of a debate, whether you feed continually through the year or offer food in the coldest of months.
Down on the Axe Wetlands, we have a crop of hanging feeders which dangle nut-filled fruit in front of the hide window.
This brings finches, ***, dunnocks and, of course, sparrowhawks close to the hide for people’s enjoyment.The feeders are hung a few centimetres from one-way glass, meaning you can often be incredibly close to goldfinches, blue *** and blackcaps. When the local male sparrowhawk makes a full speed pass through the feeding station, it is surely the ultimate spectacle in bird feeding?
Of course, it is not only feathered wildlife that is attracted to a sure supply of protein-rich food. As Geoff Martin discovered when he looked out of the window and saw two voles on his peanut feeder.
The photo shows a long tail with just the merest hint of a pale underside, so this makes Geoff’s voles bank voles, Myodes glareolus. You can tell that these are voles and not mice, by the small ears and little eyes in a ‘cute’ round face. Just like Mickey, mice have much larger disc-like ears.
Bank voles are widespread around woodlands and hedgerows in the UK and are one of our most numerous small mammals here in East Devon. They are small animals, easily sitting in a cupped hand, but, be warned, they do have a tendency to pee when alarmed, so Geoff is best advised to admire these gorgeous little voles through the glass!
Bank voles have a lifespan of a maximum of 18 months, a short life. They breed prolifically, however, and will have a litter of four babies after about 20 days gestation, which are, in turn, independent after four weeks. They breed between March and October and, in good years, one adult female can produce hundreds of offspring.
Good job, too - lots of animals rely on bank voles as a prey species, particularly kestrels.I was fortunate to be sent another photo this week, from Peter Miller of Budleigh Salterton. Peter managed to get a photo of a bird I have always wanted to see, but which has so far eluded me, a wryneck.
These cryptically-coloured birds are members of the woodpecker family, having large heads, long prehensile tongues and zygodactyl feet.
Zygodactyl is such a fabulous word, it would be a crime not to use it, the few times one gets the oportunity, but, put simply, it means that two toes point forwards and two point back, a feature which gives all woodpeckers excellent grip on bark.
However, the wryneck lacks the stiff tail feathers sported by the likes of the greater-spotted woodpecker, and is less adept at shinning up vertical trunks.
Indeed, as in Peter’s photograph, wryneck are likely to be seen on the ground feeding on ants and other small invertebrates, more like a green woodpecker. The name wryneck comes from an odd defensive behaviour, seen when the bird is disturbed on the nest.
The large head is able to be turned through almost 180 degrees, a bit like an owl and, when threatened, the wryneck will posture and twist its neck like a snake from within the tree hole in which it nests. Indeed, the condition of Torticollis is known as ‘wryneck’ and describes a muscle spasm in the neck.
2011 has been a bumper year for autumnal sightings of wryneck along the south coast, so keep a lookout as they often appear in gardens.
Peter’s photo gives an excellent illustration of their camouflage colouring, but it doesn’t do justice to just how small these birds are, barely larger than a sparrow!
If any reader spots a wryneck in their garden, or out and about around the district, I would be really keen to know, especially if I am able to break my ‘jinx’ with this bird!
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